Fall of the Knight Conference

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Prime Minister Peter Altmeier at the Rittersturz conference

At the Rittersturz Conference , which took place from July 8 to 10, 1948 in the Hotel “ Rittersturz ” in Koblenz , the heads of government of the countries formed in the western occupation zones of Germany (with the exception of Saarland ) and the Lord Mayor of Berlin discussed the London recommendations and the Frankfurt documents based on them , which provided for the establishment of a West German state.

The Frankfurt documents were handed over to the Prime Minister on July 1, 1948 by the military governors of the three Western victorious powers . They recommended that a federal constitution be drawn up, drawn up by a constituent assembly and approved by the occupying powers. In the “Koblenz Resolutions”, the minister-presidents initially responded with reservations: In order not to deepen the division of Germany and to maintain the claim to an all-German solution, they wanted to avoid anything that would give the united western zones the character of a state . Instead of a constitution, a mere “organizational statute” should be created. They later revised their position and agreed to the constitution of a western state, which was supposed to be a provisional solution. The Rittersturz Conference was one of the first steps on the way to the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany and its establishment .


The decisive impetus for the establishment of democracy in West Germany came from the Western occupying powers under the leadership of the United States of America . With the Berlin Declaration of June 5, 1945, the four victorious powers assumed “supreme governmental power with regard to Germany” and founded the Allied Control Council , which was responsible for Germany as a whole . At the state level , German state power was gradually rebuilt in the following months, but the governments of the states formed between 1945 and 1947 were still subject to the Allies' right of objection. The occupation rule had two levels: that of the Allied Control Council in Berlin and that of the four zones of occupation, each of which was subordinate to a military governor . The permanent conference of foreign ministers of the four victorious powers should serve the coordination at the international level. When two of these conferences in Moscow and London in 1947 failed to reach an agreement on the German question , the Control Council also became ineffective.

Without a common authority, the gap between the Soviet-occupied and the three western zones widened, while these gradually developed common structures. As early as January 1, 1947, the Americans and British had united their areas of occupation to form the bizone . Finally, the US took the initiative to advance the economic and political integration of all three western zones. At the London Six Power Conference , which began in London at the end of February 1948, they achieved the accession of the French occupied territory to what is now the so-called Trizone and prevailed against the initial resistance of France with their demand for the establishment of a West German state. The conference drew up concrete plans to, as stated in the first communiqué of March 1948, “create a basis for the participation of a democratic Germany in the community of free peoples”. The USA, Great Britain , France and the Benelux countries participated in the conference .

On June 7, 1948, the London Conference adopted its final communiqué, the "London Recommendations". They contained the mandate to the military governors of the Trizone to instruct the West German minister-presidents to convene a constituent assembly to discuss and draft a democratic and federal constitution. This constitution should be submitted to the occupation authorities for approval and then approved in a referendum by at least eight of the eleven countries. On July 1, 1948, this order was handed over to the Prime Ministers of the three western zones by the three western military governors in the form of the “ Frankfurt Documents ”. In addition to the mandate to draw up the constitution, they included the request to propose changes to the national borders if necessary, and the basic lines for an occupation statute to be drawn up : the occupying powers wanted to include the perception of foreign relations , control over foreign trade , the guarantee of the fundamental provisions of the Potsdam Agreement , i.e. demilitarization , denazification and reparation payments , and finally the creation of an international Ruhr authority reserved.

In the process of transferring economic responsibilities to German authorities, the Economic Council of the United Economic Area, a kind of German economic government, was set up. Even before the heads of government of the federal states met on July 8, 1948, the crisis surrounding Berlin had arisen, which began immediately after the currency conversion in the western zones. After the break between the four victorious powers, the Allied Control Council ceased its activities. These events influenced the course of the conference.

The conference


Peter Altmeier , Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate for a year , invited the heads of states of the western occupation zones to the Berghotel on the Rittersturz in the then seat of government in Koblenz; Since the building outside the city survived the war unscathed, the meeting here could be organized relatively easily and proceed undisturbed. Most of the participants came with several cabinet members.

Commiss. Lord Mayor of Berlin Louise Schroeder (left) at the Berghotel Rittersturz in Koblenz, right Jakob Steffan

The acting Lord Mayor of Berlin Louise Schroeder was also demonstratively invited, although Berlin was not affected by the London recommendations and Frankfurt documents.


Twelve heads of government took part in the deliberations, accompanied by political and legal advisers:

The Minister of Justice and Deputy President of Württemberg-Hohenzollern, the social democratic constitutional lawyer Carlo Schmid, played a decisive role in the deliberations . He made himself particularly strong for the provisional character of the new political unit to be created. The two major parties were represented by Konrad Adenauer , then CDU chairman in the British zone, by Josef Müller , chairman of the CSU, and by the deputy party chairman of the SPD, Erich Ollenhauer , who represented Kurt Schumacher . However, they did not take part in the negotiations.


The assembled politicians viewed the Frankfurt documents extremely critically. The draft of the occupation statute , which was contained in the third Frankfurt document, seemed to make the establishment of a state with a free constitution impossible. The conference participants were also very concerned about the division of Germany, which would enshrine the establishment of a western state. Nevertheless, they also saw that the documents represented a first step from occupation rule to political self-determination. Those gathered at the Knight's Fall therefore interpreted it as a basis for negotiations. Schroeder implored the assembled prime ministers not to make any final decisions. They agreed, but for the sake of the unity of Germany neither wanted to agree to the proposal nor to reject it wholeheartedly. They had absolutely nothing fundamentally against founding a new state , only it shouldn't be called that and should only be a temporary solution. The prime ministers refused to convene a national assembly , and no new constitution should be drawn up, but only a “Basic Law” or, as Schmid put it even more cautiously, just an “Organizational Statute”.

Koblenz resolutions

The result of the Rittersturz conference were the Koblenz resolutions , which were formulated in a reply to the military governors. A detailed statement was drawn up for each of the three Frankfurt documents, preceded by a note in which they presented their basic assessment of the documents.

In the mantle note, the Prime Ministers accepted the authorization given in the Frankfurt documents. They welcomed "that the [Western] occupying powers are determined to combine the parts of Germany under their jurisdiction into a unified area, to which a powerful organization is to be given by the population themselves". An expansion of German competencies within the three zones compared to those of the United Economic Area seemed to the heads of government to be desirable.

They noted with satisfaction the intention to "place relations with the occupying powers on a clear legal basis". They stuck to the idea of ​​bringing the German nation back into a common state for all Germans . However, they saw a unification of the whole of Germany under the existing circumstances as temporarily unrealizable. In the Frankfurt documents, the Allies had called for a constitution that provided for a federal form of government with an appropriate central government body. This corresponded to the definition of a state that would be restricted to the western zones. The prime ministers did not want to help split Germany into two parts. They did not want to take responsibility for the founding of a western state and thus for the division of Germany. Not a state should be founded, but an “organized provisional arrangement” in the form of an “administrative special-purpose association”. They emphasized "that, without prejudice to the granting of the greatest possible autonomy to the population of this area, everything must be avoided that would give the structure to be created the character of a state".

Contrary to what the Western powers had proposed, however, no constituent assembly was to be convened , but a “ parliamentary council ” to be appointed by the members of the state parliaments and citizenships . Instead of a “constitution”, a “ basic law” should be worked out, which should be ratified by the state parliaments . At the present time, it could only be a temporary solution, not a West German state, not a successor state to the German Reich . Instead of establishing a state through a constitution, the prime minister's proposal therefore moved in the direction of an administrative and organizational statute called the “Basic Law”. First of all, the unity of the three western zones should be created. An occupation statute should be enacted by the occupying powers as the basis for the deliberations on the Basic Law. It should be “clearly” expressed “that the organizational changes now planned are ultimately based on the will of the occupying powers, from which other consequences must result. as if they were an act of free self-determination by the German people ”. Finally, the Prime Ministers recommended that the question of the Ruhr Statute be settled independently of the Constitutional Statute.


The American military governor Lucius D. Clay reacted angrily about the looming rejection. On July 14, 1948, in Frankfurt, he accused the Prime Minister of the American zone of occupation that they had "missed a golden opportunity" because the Frankfurt documents had now been suspended and he was personally very disappointed. His annoyance stemmed from the fear that the Soviet Union could now claim that the Germans themselves did not want a western state to be founded. However, given the threat posed by the Soviet Union, this is unavoidable. He also feared that the German reservations would give the French government reason to thwart the western state solution. Indeed, the French military governor Marie-Pierre Kœnig signaled to the prime ministers in his zone that the London recommendations were not the last word. He suggested to the other two military governors that they leave it to the issue of an occupation statute for the time being. In the course of time it will be seen which tasks could be taken over by the Germans. Clay and his British colleague Brian Robertson had some difficulty getting him to stick to the London Accords.

As a result, the heads of government of the countries met again with the three military governors. At the Niederwald Conference near Rüdesheim and in Frankfurt am Main they agreed by July 26, 1948 on the "organization of the three zones on the basis of the London Agreement". After Clay's ultimatum that they would bear the consequences of any further delays, the military governors finally agreed that the eleven state parliaments of the western countries should send delegates to a parliamentary council. A constituent assembly directly elected by the people was off the table. The designation of the Basic Law instead of the Constitution also met the Prime Minister's wish to set up only a temporary arrangement.

Second Koblenz Conference 1949

After the adoption of the Basic Law and the first federal elections , the Prime Ministers met again on August 25th and 26th, 1949 at the Rittersturz. They decided to convene the Bundestag and Bundesrat for September 7th and the Federal Assembly for September 12th, 1949 in Bonn. For the Federal Council, the election and position of its President as well as the scope and tasks of its secretariat were discussed and the number of delegates to be sent by the individual countries was determined for the Federal Assembly. The Prime Ministers thus made the last decisions that were still outstanding in the course of the founding of the state. As its spokesman, the Rhineland-Palatinate Prime Minister Altmeier read out a proclamation to the German people, in which it was emphasized that this foundation was only one step on the difficult road to unification of all of Germany .


Memorial to the Rittersturz conference, viewpoint Rittersturz in Koblenz

A bronze plaque was later attached to the facade of the hotel and excursion restaurant in memory of the conference, which is now in the Koblenz State Archives . Instead of the building that was demolished in 1974 because of the risk of rock falls, a memorial with the inscription at the viewpoint Rittersturz today reminds us : Here on the Rittersturz met on the 8th, 9th and 10th. July 1948 the conference of the German Prime Ministers. Their deliberations led to the adoption of the Basic Law and the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany via the Parliamentary Council. The three-part stele by the sculptor Rudi Scheuermann , inaugurated in 1978, symbolizes the three zones of occupation. Its inclination to the east indicates the missing fourth. According to another opinion, the six-meter high basalt column to the pillars of their three-bundling democratic polity represent: the legislative , executive and judicial branches in the violence-part constitutional state .


  • Bettina Blank : The West German states and the emergence of the Federal Republic. On the discussion of the Frankfurt documents from July 1948 , Studies on Contemporary History, Vol. 44. Oldenbourg, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-486-56108-1 .

Web links

Commons : Fall of the Knight Conference  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Manfred Görtemaker : History of the Federal Republic of Germany. From the foundation to the present . CH Beck, Munich 1999, p. 755; Hans-Ulrich Wehler : German history of society, Vol. 4: From the beginning of the First World War to the founding of the two German states 1914-1949 . CH Beck, Munich 2003, p. 978; Michael Schweitzer : Constitutional Law III. Constitutional law, international law, European law . 8th edition, CF Müller, Heidelberg 2004, p. 258, Rn. 615.
  2. Georg Dahm , Jost Delbrück , Rüdiger Wolfrum : Völkerrecht , Vol. I / 1, 2nd edition, Berlin 1989, p. 225.
  3. ^ Documents on the future political development of Germany ["Frankfurter Documents"], July 1, 1948 ( online at 1000dokumente.de, accessed on June 10, 2018); Karl Dietrich Erdmann : The end of the empire and the new formation of German states (=  Gebhardt. Handbook of German history , vol. 22), dtv, Munich 1980, p. 297 f.
  4. ^ Manfred Görtemaker: History of the Federal Republic of Germany. From the foundation to the present . CH Beck, Munich 1999, pp. 52-54.
  5. ^ Manfred Görtemaker: History of the Federal Republic of Germany. From the foundation to the present . CH Beck, Munich 1999, p. 51 f.
  6. ^ Adolf M. Birke : Nation without a house. Germany 1945–1961 . Siedler, Berlin 1994, p. 177; Henning Köhler : Germany on the way to itself. A story of the century . Hohenheim-Verlag, Stuttgart 2002, p. 479.
  7. ^ Theo Stammen, Gerold Maier: The process of constitution , in: Becker, Stammen, Waldmann (Hrsg.): Prehistory of the Federal Republic of Germany , Uni-Taschenbücher 854, Munich 1979, p. 386.
  8. All quotations from the section “Koblenz Resolutions” from the reply from the Prime Ministers of the West German occupation zones to the military governors with a statement on the Frankfurt documents, quoted from Falk Wiesemann : The founding of the West German state and the emergence of the Basic Law , in: West Germany's Way to the Federal Republic 1945 -1949. Contributions by employees of the Institute for Contemporary History (= Becksche Schwarze Reihe, vol. 137), Munich 1976, ISBN 3-406-04937-0 , p. 124 f.
  9. ^ Karl Dietrich Erdmann: The end of the empire and the new formation of German states (=  Gebhardt. Handbook of German History , Vol. 22), dtv, Munich 1980, p. 297 f.
  10. ^ Adolf M. Birke: Nation without a house. Germany 1945–1961 . Siedler, Berlin 1994, p. 178.
  11. ^ Manfred Görtemaker: History of the Federal Republic of Germany. From the foundation to the present . CH Beck, Munich 1999, p. 53.
  12. John H. Backer: The German Years of General Clay. The Road to the Federal Republic 1945–1949 . CH Beck, Munich 1983, p. 301.
  13. John H. Backer: The German Years of General Clay. The Road to the Federal Republic 1945–1949 . CH Beck, Munich 1983, p. 301 f .; Adolf M. Birke: Nation without a house. Germany 1945–1961 . Siedler, Berlin 1994, p. 179 ff .; Rudolf Morsey : The Federal Republic of Germany. Origin and development until 1969 (=  Oldenbourg floor plan of history , vol. 19). Oldenbourg, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-486-70114-2 , p. 18 f. (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  14. ^ Helmut Vogt : Rhineland-Palatinate, neighbor of the young federal capital. In: Bonner Geschichtsblätter. Yearbook of the Bonner Heimat- und Geschichtsverein , Volume 49/50, 1999/2000 (2001), ISSN  0068-0052 , pp. 501–505, here p. 501.